BRADENTON, Fla. — Numerous protesters plan to object when a Florida agency considers finalizing a $1.75 billion bond issue for a privately owned passenger train project.
All Aboard Florida opponents are organizing free bus rides and caravans from the east coast to downtown Orlando for the Florida Development Finance Corp.'s meeting on Wednesday.
"People are outraged," Phyllis Frey, a member of Citizens Against the Train, said Friday. "They think that we haven't been listened to on the Treasure Coast."
Frey said that reservations for the 55-seat bus from Vero Beach, where she lives, was almost full and others would be added, if needed.
The FDFC board will be asked on Wednesday to approve the bond resolution and related documents for the 30-year tax exempt bonds partially financing the 235-mile passenger train link between Miami and Orlando.
FDFC, a state-created conduit issuer, expects to make $1.8 million from the deal - six times more than the agency earned in application and issuance fees in fiscal 2014.
All Aboard owner Fortress Investment Group LLC plans to start passenger service in 2017 along freight tracks owned by its Florida East Coast Railway. A new spur will be built inland to Orlando International Airport.
The project's detractors include the grass roots organization Citizens Against the Train, whose website says it has joined forces with Florida east coast groups and associations from Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Brevard counties.
CATT has also joined Martin County in an ongoing federal lawsuit challenging the private activity bond allocation All Aboard Florida received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Indian River County has filed a separate suit attempting to block the PABs.
CATT and the nonprofit Guardians of Martin County Inc. have emailed train opponents urging them to "stand up and defend our communities" at Wednesday's meeting.
Those who cannot attend are being encouraged to flood FDFC officials with emails and phone calls.
"August 5th will be the last opportunity the public will have to comment on why the PAB's should NOT be approved for this project," said the CATT's website. "THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION!!!"
CATT, along with the Martin and Indian River County commissions, have cited safety, environmental, and archaeological concerns about the train in court papers and studies.
They have also submitted thousands of comments to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is preparing the final Environment Impact Statement that is necessary for the project to move forward.
Frey, a retiree from Vero Beach in Indian River County who used to work for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she will give a presentation Wednesday about FEC freight, hazardous materials, and the interaction with the planned passenger service.
"I'm a retired FAA safety examiner for the airlines, so I have a particular problem with what they [AAF] are doing because safety is first in the aviation industry," she said. "My job is just to present the facts."
AAF President Michael Reininger said in an earlier interview that the company plans to issue the bonds "expeditiously" once FDFC approves the bond resolution.
Before the bonds are marketed, Gov. Rick Scott also must sign off on the transaction as part of the PAB process under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, or TEFRA.
The FDFC's financial advisor, Jeff Larson, president of Larson Consulting Services, has recommended that the board approve the transaction.